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10 Cities and Towns That Tried to Host the U.N.

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Back in the mid-1940s, over 200 American municipalities tried persuading the newly-formed United Nations to set up shop on or near their soil, including these 10.

1. Detroit

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The Motor City’s backers painted Bell Isle as an ideal destination, pointing out that, because the landmass rests between two countries with a long history of mutual respect, its symbolic value was huge. During their bid, local officeholders couldn’t resist the urge to start bragging: “Other American cities may have one advantage, but Detroit has them all,” Convention & Tourist Bureau president Frank A. Pickard said.

2. Claremore, Oklahoma

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Apparently, so far as distinctions go, being both Will Rogers’s hometown and the setting of that Rogers & Hammerstein musical weren’t enough for this Great Plains community. Once, when a U.N. plane touched down in Tulsa to refuel at 2:30 a.m., Claremont residents startled its passengers by greeting them with promotional fliers, even after their bid had been denied.

3. San Francisco


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It may be easy to leave your heart in San Francisco, but in 1945, flying there from the east coast was a tiring ordeal—the trip usually took upwards of 16 hours, and that was on top of the journey from Europe—so the city was dropped from serious consideration, despite Mayor Roger Lapham’s best lobbying efforts.  

4. Boston

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Bean Town residents have been calling their city "the hub of the universe" since the 1860s. So, naturally, when word got out that U.N. diplomats were seeking a permanent home for their new "World Capital," Boston threw its hat in the ring. During the winter of ’46, visiting representatives got red-carpet treatment, complete with a scenic blimp ride.

5. Scituate, Rhode Island

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New England looked like prime real estate—after all, no U.S. region sits closer to Europe, and on January 23, 1946, U.N. delegates arrived to inspect this pretty Rhode Island town. The weather was perfect: one newspaper reported that it was "as if the landscape had put on costume jewelry for its distinguished guests." But Scituate offered more than scenery. What made it really attractive was a nearby radio listening station which had helped allied forces monitor Nazi activities throughout WWII. According to superintendent Thomas Cave, Scituate was "the best location in the country for radio transmission and reception to any part of the world."

6. St. Louis

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In 1945, civic leaders recommended the St. Louis suburb of Weldon Spring.

7. Hyde Park, New York

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This little town had a big advocate. Five months after her husband died in office, Eleanor Roosevelt asked his successor to consider nudging the U.N. toward FDR’s place of birth. After all, as she reminded President Harry Truman, the government already owned land on-site. "[There] is great interest in the village in having some of the property … selected as the permanent headquarters of the United Nations," Roosevelt wrote. Truman replied a few days later, politely noting that while he was grateful for her letter, he didn’t know how the placement decision would be made.  

8. Chicago

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According to Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations, Chicago's dark history of terrible fires, vicious gangsters, and strikes posed a challenge to its bid, as did its isolationist leanings. Eventually, this prevailing attitude became a deal-breaker and, just like that, Chicago's odds of winning the U.N. sweepstakes evaporated.

9. Grand Island, New York

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Nestled just a few miles upstream of Niagara Falls, this upstate island and town could have become the world’s political epicenter. Instead, it reached the "final four" of the U.N. host site selection process but advanced no further.

10. Philadelphia

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If it weren’t for some guy named Rockefeller, the U.N. headquarters would be as quintessentially Philadelphian as cheese steak. Badly wanting to stick this feather in its cap, the City of Brotherly Love fought hard and almost won. Unlike her great rival New York, in which space proved rather tight, Philly was willing to part with essentially any chunk of land for the U.N., and, as an added bonus, even offered to cover all building expenses.

Impressed, the powers that be decided Philadelphia would be a perfect locale. Then, four days before the U.N. planned to announce its impending move there, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and planning czar Robert Moses came up with some land on Manhattan and a promised gift of $8.5 million. In a flash, the deal was done. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer took this brush-off hard. "The atmosphere of Manhattan’s gin and jazz would probably be to the liking of international lobbyists, parasites, and camp followers," one writer scoffed, "but it is far from the quiet and dignity in which the United Nations should properly work."

BONUS: South Dakota's Black Hills Region

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To Rapid City businessman Paul Bellamy, there was no place on earth that could better serve the U.N. than this remote region. "[The] delegates would think clearer out in the Black Hills," he argued. Geographic isolation would come with other advantages, too. For example, in Bellamy’s mind, a nuclear holocaust wasn’t likely to affect South Dakota all that much: “In the Black Hills, there are no military objectives, and the gentlemen who are striving for peace in the world can live at peace while the atomic bombs are falling.”

Bellamy’s team came up with an outlandish sketch of this future complex. Situated over 100 square miles of tax-free land, there’d be a huge central building surrounded by rings of international offices. Special highways would slice through the neighboring mountains, where diplomats could also set up cozy getaway cottages.

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Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
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Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.
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The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

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Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo
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History
The Funky History of George Washington's Fake Teeth
Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo
Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo

George Washington may have the most famous teeth—or lack thereof—in American history. But counter to what you may have heard about the Founding Father's ill-fitting dentures, they weren't made of wood. In fact, he had several sets of dentures throughout his life, none of which were originally trees. And some of them are still around. The historic Mount Vernon estate holds the only complete set of dentures that has survived the centuries, and the museum features a video that walks through old George's dental history.

Likely due to genetics, poor diet, and dental disease, Washington began losing his original teeth when he was still a young man. By the time he became president in 1789, he only had one left in his mouth. The dentures he purchased to replace his teeth were the most scientifically advanced of the time, but in the late 18th century, that didn't mean much.

They didn't fit well, which caused him pain, and made it difficult to eat and talk. The dentures also changed the way Washington looked. They disfigured his face, causing his lips to noticeably stick out. But that doesn't mean Washington wasn't grateful for them. When he finally lost his last surviving tooth, he sent it to his dentist, John Greenwood, who had made him dentures of hippo ivory, gold, and brass that accommodated the remaining tooth while it still lived. (The lower denture of that particular pair is now held at the New York Academy of Medicine.)

A set of historic dentures
George Washington's Mount Vernon

These days, no one would want to wear dentures like the ones currently held at Mount Vernon (above). They're made of materials that would definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth. The base that fit the fake teeth into the jaw was made of lead. The top teeth were sourced from horses or donkeys, and the bottom were from cows and—wait for it—people.

These teeth actually deteriorated themselves, revealing the wire that held them together. The dentures open and shut thanks to metal springs, but because they were controlled by springs, if he wanted to keep his mouth shut, Washington had to permanently clench his jaw. You can get a better idea of how the contraption worked in the video from Mount Vernon below.

Washington's Dentures from Mount Vernon on Vimeo.

There are plenty of lessons we can learn from the life of George Washington, but perhaps the most salient is this: You should definitely, definitely floss.

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